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Opponent Preview: UNC vs. James Madison

UNC's home opener against the Duke kicks off at 3:30pm at Kenan Stadium on Saturday.

Series Record: UNC leads, 2-0

Getting to Know the Dukes

James Madison is the first of two FCS opponents that UNC will face in 2016. The Dukes hired head coach Mike Houston, formerly the head coach at the Citadel, before the season’s start and his tenure in Harrisonburg, VA is off to a hot start. James Madison beat Morehead State, 80-7, in its season opener and took down Central Connecticut State by a score of 56-21 last week. The Dukes have looked impressive so far and currently rank 10th nationally in the STATS FCS Top-25 poll.

Offense

After scoring 136 points in the first two games of the season, James Madison is off to a historic scoring start. The Dukes’ offense is led by junior quarterback Bryan Schor, whose accuracy and efficiency have been some of the primary reasons for his offense’s prolific start. Schor has completed 25 of 32 passes for 314 yards and three touchdowns over his two starts. While Schor has torched opposing defenses through the air, it may be his performance on the ground that has proved more impressive. The 6-foot-2 quarterback has rushed for 170 yards and three touchdowns over the Dukes’ first two games. The Tar Heels have yet to face a quarterback this season who is a legitimate deal threat.

Even with Schor’s recent performances, the Dukes’ offense still goes through redshirt junior running back Cardon Johnson, who is averaging 6.4 yards per rush in 2016 and already has four touchdowns. Johnson’s is a bruising runner. Instead of using breakneck speed to get by defenders, Johnson prefers to pound through the opposition and wear them down throughout the game. Johnson’s longest run this season is only 23 yards, but he still is averaging 112.5 rushing yards a game.

James Madison’s receiving core is defined by two very different receivers. The Dukes’ leading pass catcher is sophomore receiver Brandon Ravenel, who has eight catches on the year for 79 yards and a touchdown. At 6-foot, Ravenel is a primary shifty option and often works inside. The larger Domo Taylor, who at 6-foot-3 is James Madison’s biggest offensive threat down the field, only has three catches so far this season, but averages 22.33 yards per catch with a long of 37 yards and a touchdown.

Defense

James Madison’s defense has had almost as strong a start as the offense. The Dukes’ have only given up 28 points in two games, albeit not against the strongest of opponents. The strong point of Houston’s defense so far has been its linebacking corps. The unit is led by young rushers who can potentially cause UNC some problems in the backfield. Junior Brandon Hereford has been the star so far this season, as he’s recorded 17 total tackles, with two being for loss. This season is Hereford’s first as a consistent starter, and he hasn’t disappointed. He’s complimented by sophomore linebacker Dimitri Holloway, who has replicated his play after an impressive freshman year. Holloway has 13 tackles on the season and has forced a fumble. His speed rushing off of the edge is his best weapon.

The Dukes’ secondary is led by senior safety Raven Greene, who already has an interception this season and will look to add to that total in Chapel Hill. Standing beside Greene in the secondary is junior safety Marcell Johnson, who also has an interception in 2016. As a unit, Greene and Johnson have combined for a total of 13 tackles and have been the main reason for the success of the Dukes’ defense. Sophomore cornerback Charles Tutt has also had a strong start to the season. He is quick to the ball and a strong tackler, rarely letting his receiver get any yards after the catch.

Notable Quotes

“They run the football. I mean they’ve rushed for 800 and something yards already in two games. That’s hard to get done in practice against air. They’ve had a lot of success running the football in the first two weeks and they’re serious about it. You score 136 points in two games, you’re hitting a lot of cylinders early in the season.” - UNC head coach Larry Fedora

“With Chapel Hill, so many of our guys have coached against Coach Fedora in the past, so they know what to expect to a degree. At the end of the day it’s going to be about how well we can go out and execute on all three phases on Saturday, so at least we have a decent idea going into this game.” - Houston on his staff’s familiarity with UNC

Matchup to Watch

UNC’s Mitch Trubisky versus James Madison’s secondary
Trubisky gained his confidence back after a strong performance against Illinois in which he completed 19-of-24 passes for 265 yards and two touchdowns. Trubisky hasn’t thrown an interception since November 2014. Houston’s defense has three interceptions already on the season, all by different players, and is a strength of the defense. If Trubisky tries to throw down the middle of the field, he will be greeted by Greene and Johnson, JMU’s two ball-hawking safeties. It may prove more effective for the Tar Heels’ offense to play to the edge of the field. Trubisky has shown and efficiency for throwing balls on the perimeter and it will keep it out of the safeties’ prime quarters. Trubisky shouldn’t have a problem moving the ball down the field against an FCS opponent, but he needs to be smart if he wants to keep his egg in the interceptions column.


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